April 25, 2013 at 7:00 AM
An unexpected urban nature story
Sometimes nature can wow you, often at an unexpected moment.
Most outdoors lovers have a story about a surprise display of natural action on a hike, a fishing expedition or a mushroom hunt.
But in the Puget Sound area, with nature surrounding the metropolitan footprint, sometimes that unexpected moment can happen right in your front yard. That’s the way it was for me and my cat, Harley, earlier this month.
To tell the story I need to give you a little front-yard geography. I have a smallish bamboo thicket on the north side of my driveway and my neighbor has a tall hedge in front of his house. There is a constant burble of sparrows going back and forth between the two. It happens so often that I rarely notice the movement anymore.
But in this case I was carrying Harley down my front steps. And being a cat, Harley noticed the sparrows fly over our heads and into the bamboo. In that natural bit of instinct to follow the eyes of another, my gaze followed his. We had yet to notice the predator gliding in just over our heads.
The Peregrine falcon started out as little more than a blur until it slowed itself for the bamboo. I’m sure the sparrows thought they were taking cover. I would have thought the sparrows could have darted behind branches and beyond reach in there, but it didn’t work out that way. The falcon waded into the bamboo with little if any hesitation
It emerged with a male sparrow basketed in its talons and gracefully sailed away. I looked at Harley and it appeared as though his face was reflecting what mine was, near disbelief with what we had just witnessed.
I had long carried an image in my mind of Peregrines diving from the sky to rake some hapless pigeon trying to escape. This display of tearing into the bamboo after prey was out of the context of my knowledge. It was shocking and added a layer of fierceness to my understanding of falcons.
Harley, who fancies himself a bird catcher, seemed more than a little humbled. He was not the only one in the neighborhood in a bit of shock.
For the next half hour, my neighborhood was under a cover of radio silence for all birds. No sparrow chatter, no robins chirping out spring, no flickers hammering on the chimney caps. Even our ubiquitous crows, which are constantly cawing out territorial messages of one type or another, were dead quiet.
Bigger raptors, eagles and red tails, pass by through our neighborhood all the time and the crows are out, instantly full of noise and harassment. But not for the Peregrine. The crows came down off their high perches. Instead they found places under eaves or in large trees right up against the trunk.
Like the samurai of the bird world, Peregrine’s have honed their technique and weapons to an intimidating perfection.
The circle of life has sharp edges, and those sharp edges can carve out amazing scenes, even in your urban front yard.
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